Date of Award

Summer 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Long, Duane S.

Second Advisor

Doran, Robert M.

Third Advisor

Nussberger, Danielle K.


The notion of distance plays a complex role in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s trinitarian theology. The infinite distance that metaphorically marks out the difference between God and creation serves Balthasar as a negative-theological guard against earthly projections in images of God. But this distance also structures the biblical, ascetical, and phenomenological imagery upon which trinitarian theology so often depends. The infinite distance between Father and Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit structures Balthasar’s richly symbolic vision of a divine infusion of grace into a suffering world. Not only is inner-triune distance a controversial notion, but it strikes some of Balthasar’s recent critics as a flagrant misuse of theological analogy. Balthasar is also heavily criticized for importing alienation, suffering, and domination into the Godhead via his notions of kenosis, gender, and hierarchy in the processions of the Son and Spirit from the Father. It is difficult to assess Balthasar’s work and the recent criticisms of it without a thorough study of his theology of trinitarian distance. The dissertation provides two things: 1) a genealogy of distance in Balthasar’s thought and 2) a critical engagement with some of his more controversial trinitarian texts in light of this genealogy. Although he does not systematically distinguish them, there are identifiably distinct varieties of theological distance at work in Balthasar’s thought. The more developed and complex forms build on and incorporate the others as he develops them chronologically over the course of his career. The two elements of genealogy and critique overlap in the second half of the dissertation concerning Balthasar’s controversial later texts. What emerges from the study is a clear sense that Balthasar’s poetic and symphonic method of doing theology possesses a sound rigor. His controversial and sometimes excessive uses of distance, kenosis, hierarchy, and gender in trinitarian theology can fruitfully and productively be held accountable to this rigor. Rather than separating him out from the Catholic tradition he seeks to develop, Balthasar’s theology of distance places him firmly within it as he faces some of modernity’s greatest theological challenges.